random reviews, recollections & reminiscings

Monday, January 14, 2008

REEL REVIEW: There Will Be Blood (2007) ****

There Will Be Blood (2007) poster
rated R (for some violence)
2 hrs. 38 min

written by: Paul Thomas Anderson (based on the novel Oil! by Upton Sinclair)
produced by: Paul Thomas Anderson & Scott Rudin
directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson

Here's another film that has remained with me a week after viewing and that's why it made it on my Top Ten Films of 2007 list. I saw it because I have never seen a movie starring Daniel Day-Lewis where I wasn't absolutely mesmerized by his performance. This film only supported that statement, the man is an amazing actor and this movie is a quite an experience. It definitely supports the fact that oil and religion don't mix, not today and certainly not in the desolate Northern California landscape of the late 1800's. That's right, the film is about oil and greed and religion and deception. It's a dirty movie where you will feel the grime and dust cake your skin in your seat, you feel the heat just as much as the characters on screen do.

This is a film that demands your undivided attention and does so easily from the beginning. Writer & Director Paul Thomas Anderson starts off with unprecedented form by not giving any dialogue for about the first 15-30 minutes. That's right, no one utters a word but the film still manages to speak volumes on many levels. We're shown a barren desert landscape somewhere in California with the swelling sounds of orchestral strings accompanying the sharp bite of a tool striking the earth. The man is Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) and he is indeed meticulously chipping away at a wall deep down a man-made well, searching for his fortune. He mines for silver alone, an independent man with no need of assistance let alone words. He has no one to turn to when calamity strikes, and yet he has the will to overcome that calamity in order to stake his claim.

Dillon Freasier and Daniel Day-Lewis in Paramount Vantages' There Will Be Blood

In an unprecedented move, Anderson only uses music amid the sounds of a birthing industry for this opening scene and that's what hooks you in. I sat there finding myself riveted as I'm sure others were in the quiet theatre. I was forced to pay attention, almost as if right from the start viewers are asked to make the decision to become thoroughly invested. Very soon, we see that Plainview is not your average turn-of-the-century entrepreneur who pulled himself up by his bootstraps. No, this is a man consumed by himself, who surrounds himself by those who would believe in him. Yet we see right through the charismatic salesman. Plainview doesn't care about anyone, he even flat out says later on that he often finds himself despising other people.
Years later, Plainview has his hands in multiple wells which has made him a rich man. He travels around speaking to townspeople living in prospective lands with a prop, an adopted a son named H.W. (first-timer Dillion Freasier), who was orphaned as a baby when a collapsing rig killed his father. That may seem like a compassionate act by Plainview but like anything else, we find he has his ulterior motives. H.W. is unaware that Plainview isn't his real pappy, and Plainview exploits his mini-me so he can call his enterprise a family business. This behavior is dealt with eventually as is many other of Plainviews unrepentant ways. We see that a man cannot repent until he actually sees the need to.

The film does play like a work of classic literature in ways I can't really describe, it just has an epic scope. Like any such work, there is an antagonist and what's interesting is that a reader (or viewer) is usually already rooting for a respectable protagonist but not in this film. One night, a mysterious young man named Paul (Paul Dano) appears and tells Plainview he knows where there are untapped oil reserves. He tells Plainview that for $500, he will disclose the location of his family's ranch. Of course, Plainview is soon on the scene and trying to cheat the old farmer (David Willis) out of his property under the guise of wanting a quiet place to hunt quail. The farmer's other son, Eli Sunday (also played by Dano) suspects the real motivation for the purchase, and so their clash of wills gets underway. Hence, we have our classic protagonist in Sunday, a Pentecostal preacher in the small local church. He wants to make sure his congregation--and their spiritual leader--are taken care of but he too is a charlatan with ulterior motives.

So you have two charismatic people at odds with each other who are more alike than they'd ever admit. It's ironic that this is essentially a war between oil and religion....sound familiar? As much as these two characters are continuously at odds one commonality is that money and salvation can change who a person is. There are continuous clashes throughout this film of the material and the spiritual. I'm not gonna get into the specific cause and effects of either of these characters actions but both definitely cause serious repercussions to those around them. All of it is gripping and powerful, as Anderson shows us two men consumed with their own agenda and the misery that comes from it.

The story comes from Upton Sinclair's eighty year-old novel Oil! about an oil baron who engages in a mental battle with a revival type preacher who holds the key to a plot of land with oceans of crude bubbling underneath the surface. Both want control of the gusher, because both are looking to line their coffers. Anderson uses that set up and runs with it, creating an ominous title change that does indeed provide that human life source but also blood from the earth. Oil is the fuel for everything. It powers cars, it invigorates communities, and it compels men to trade their souls for its reward.

I'm probably not the best person to call this film a masterpiece but nonetheless, that's how I see it. The only other film by Anderson that I've seen is his last one, 2002's "Punch Drunk Love". I know some may find that shocking but I knew that "Boogie Nights" was more or less a cover of Scorcese's "Good Fellas" and that "Magnolia" was a take on Altman's "Short Cuts".There's nothing wrong with that but I figured if I'd seen those movies....why watch those? I know, heresy.

Paul Dano and Daniel Day-Lewis in
 Paramount Vantages' There Will Be Blood

A protagonist like Plainview can make or break a film. He's a great literary character that you can't take your eyes off of but you don't like him. What is most riveting as I watched the film is trying to find out why he thinks so highly of himself. Maybe he doesn't, maybe he has his demons, but he sure comes across like a guy who really believes what he's doing is right. An strong actor is needed for this role and I can't see anyone else but Day-Lewis as Plainview. I can't help thinking that this movie would not be nearly as excellent as it is had a different actor been cast in the lead. The entire cast is fantastic, including Ciaran Hines as Plainview's right-hand man and Kevin J. O'Connor as a shady grifter. Dano falters a little in trying to play a convincing older version of himself, but as the awkward and often sinister preacher, he's able to sell the man as both a righteous lunatic and a scheming con artist.

This is by far Daniel Day-Lewis' film. That's who you see this for. He commands every scene with his John Huston-inspired characterization. He's an actor who famously gets lost in the roles he takes and this is no exception. I've enjoyed every performance I've seen him in since I first saw him in his Oscar-winning role as Christy Brown in "My Left Foot". He plays Plainview in multiple stages of life, from a determined young man to the over-confidence of middle age and on into old age, broken and alone with his ego. Though Plainview has the gift of gab when it comes time to pitch his sale, he is most often a man of few, carefully chosen, often biting words. Some viewers and critics see his performance as grand standing and entirely over-the-top. I can see that but Day-Lewis is so captivating that I forgive it and become absorbed by him.

There's also much talk about how the movie ends. While I would never spoil it for those who haven't seen it yet, I can't seeing it ending any other way. This topic isn't unusual though, I hear many discussing the conclusion of "No Country for Old Men" as well. I understand the complaints but I respect both endings for the fact that they remain true to the characters and however a story ends, that's what should matter. Like the Coen brothers film, here's a film that will haunt you for some time. I saw it three weeks ago and I'm still seeing images and discussing it with others. Not many films can do that today.

Daniel Day-Lewis and director Paul Thomas Anderson on the set of Paramount Vantages' There Will Be Blood

The Skinny:

  • Anderson stated that he watched 1948's The Treasure of the Sierra Madre every night before filming this movie.
  • In an interview on the National Public Radio program "Fresh Air with Terry Gross," Paul Dano told Gross that he had originally been cast in the much smaller role of Paul Sunday, Eli's brother, and another actor had been cast as Eli. However, after Dano had already started filming his one scene as Paul Sunday, Anderson decided to replace the actor playing Eli. Anderson then asked Dano to play Eli Sunday (a much bigger role) as well as Paul Sunday, and they decided to change the film to make the brothers identical twins. Anderson asked Dano to play Eli on a Thursday, and filming for the role began four days later, on the next Monday. Day-Lewis, by contrast, had a whole year to prepare to play Daniel Plainview.
  • The film was originally given a 12A rating in the UK for cinema exhibition, meaning that children of any age could see it, with adult supervision if they were younger than 12. In a curious move, the distributors subsequently appealed to the British Board of Film Classification to consider raising the certificate. The BBFC agreed, and the film was subsequently uprated to a more restrictive 15, preventing anyone under that age from being admitted to screenings regardless of parental supervision.
  • Day-Lewis accepted the role of Daniel Plainview as he had been a fan of Paul Thomas Anderson's previous 2002 film, Punch-Drunk Love. According to Producer JoAnne Sellar, the film might not even have been made at all if Day-Lewis declined the role.
  • Anderson owns a vintage 1910 Pathe camera which contains a special 43mm lens. The lens was specially modified to be used in the film as it has very low resolution and can shift colors at corners. Only certain shots of the film used this lens; for example a shot of Plainview sleeping in the train with an infant H.W.
  • The main character Daniel Plainview was modeled loosely after famous oil man Edward Doheny and his characteristics were based on Count Dracula. Doheny's Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills was used at the end of the film.
  • The town of Marfa near the Texas-Mexico border was used to simulate Bakersfield, California. A reason to support the use of the town is that there are many abandoned shafts dug out at the early 20-century. One of the shafts used in the film is a deep shaft, 60-70 feet that connects to a mechanically-dug perpendicular tunnel at the bottom. Other sets like the church where built from there.
  • Anderson planned to have the restored bowling alley (used at the climax) located next to the Greystone Mansion to be entirely painted in white to give some Kubrick symmetry and menacing quality (also a nod to 1971's A Clockwork Orange). However, he changed it to its original state when it was later decided that the bowling alley was to be given away for ownership after filming.
  • Day-Lewis improvised the speech he gives to the citizens of Little Boston, about building schools, bringing bread to the town, etc. Anderson says of this, "It was delicious. It was Plainview on a platter."
  • Day-Lewis used oral histories from the time period to create Plainview's distinctive voice.
  • In the summer of '06, during filming, a photographer snapped an onset photo of a person they believed to be Day-Lewis, albeit with a great deal of physical alterations. The photo appeared used on various film websites and in magazines as an example of how drastically Day-Lewis had changed himself for the role. Upon viewing the film and applying common sense, it turns out, this person was NOT, in fact, Daniel Day-Lewis; it was instead actor Vince Froio, who portrayed Plainview's "closest associate" at the end of the film.
  • According to Anderson, the director and crew were "pretty loose about where scenes would take place." This sometimes meant filming scenes three or four different times in different locations, and evaluating the result each time.
  • Shooting began in mid-May 2006 in New Mexico and Marfa, Texas, with principal photography wrapping August 24, 2006. The first public screening was on September 29, 2007 at Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas.
  • Daniel Day-Lewis received many awards including a Golden Globe for his performance, and the film has been nominated for numerous Academy Awards, AMPAS and BAFTA awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay.
  • Originally, Paul Thomas Anderson had been working on a screenplay about two fighting families. He struggled with the script and soon realized it just wasn't working. Homesick, he purchased a copy of Sinclair's Oil! in London and was immediately drawn to the cover illustration of a California oilfield. As he read, Anderson became even more fascinated with the novel and adapted the first 150 pages to a screenplay. He began to get a real sense of where his script was going after making countless trips to museums dedicated to early oilmen in Bakersfield, CA.
  • He changed the title from Oil! to There Will Be Blood because, "at the end of the day, there [was] not enough of the book to feel like it [was] a proper adaptation."
  • He wrote the original screenplay with Day-Lewis in mind and approached the actor when the script was nearly complete. He had heard that Day-Lewis liked "Punch-Drunk Love", which gave him the confidence to hand him a copy of the incomplete script.
  • According to Day-Lewis, simply being asked to do the film was enough to convince him. In an interview with the New York Observer, the actor elaborated on what drew him to the project. It was "the understanding that [he] had already entered into that world. [He] wasn't observing it - [he'd] entered into it - and indeed [he'd] populated it with characters who [he] felt had lives of their own."
  • According to Joanne Sellar, one of the film's producers, it was a hard film to finance because, "the studios didn't think it had the scope of a major picture."
  • For the role of Plainview's son, Anderson looked at people in Los Angeles and New York City but he realized that they needed someone from Texas who knew how to shoot shotguns and "live in that world." The filmmakers asked around at a school and the principal recommended Dillon Freasier. They did not have him read any scenes and instead talked to him, realizing that he was the perfect person for the role.
  • To start building his character, Day-Lewis started with the voice. Anderson sent him recordings from the late 19th century to 1927 and a copy of "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre", including documentaries on its director, John Huston, an important influence on Anderson's film.
  • According to Anderson, he was inspired by the fact that Sierra Madre is "about greed and ambition and paranoia and looking at the worst parts of yourself." While writing the script, he would put the film on before he went to bed at night.
  • To research for the role, Day-Lewis read letters from laborers and studied photographs from the time period. He also read up on oil tycoon Edward Doheny upon whom Sinclair's book is loosely based.
  • Anderson tried to shoot the script in sequence with most of the sets on the ranch.
  • Halfway into the 60-day shoot, Anderson replaced the actor playing Eli Sunday with Paul Dano. A New York Times Magazine profile on Day-Lewis suggested that the original actor had been intimidated by Day-Lewis's intensity and habit of staying in character on and off the set.
  • Both Anderson and Day-Lewis deny this claim and Day-Lewis stated, "I absolutely don't believe that it was because he was intimidated by me. I happen to believe that — and I hope I'm right."
  • Anderson first saw Dano in 2005's "The Ballad of Jack and Rose" and thought that he would be perfect to play Eli Sunday, a role he originally envisioned to be a 12 or 13-year-old boy. To prepare for the role, Dano researched the time period that the film is set in as well as evangelical preachers.Three weeks of scenes with Sunday and Plainview had to be re-shot with Dano.
  • The interior mansion scenes were filmed at the Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills, California, the former real-life home of Edward Doheny Jr., a gift from his father Edward Doheny. Scenes filmed at Greystone involved the careful renovation of the basement's two lane bowling alley.
  • Anderson dedicated the film to Robert Altman, who died while Anderson was editing it.
  • Richard Schickel in Time magazine praised There Will Be Blood as "one of the most wholly original American movies ever made."
  • Anderson had been a fan of Radiohead's music and was impressed with Jonny Greenwood's scoring of the film Bodysong.
  • While writing the script for There Will Be Blood, Anderson heard Greenwood's orchestral piece Popcorn Superhet Receiver, which prompted him to ask Greenwood to work with him. After initially agreeing to score the film, Greenwood had doubts and thought about backing out, but Anderson's reassurance and enthusiasm for the film convinced the musician to stick with the project.
  • Anderson gave Greenwood a copy of the film and three weeks later he came back with two hours of music recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London. The film also contains a Brahms Violin Concerto used as a motif.
Interview with Anderson and musician Jonny Greenwood

There Will Be Blood (2007) gallery teaser

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